Returning to Worship

I have recently found myself thinking a lot about what excites me about some churches, and what detracts from others. You regularly read about the excitement, but I struggle to share the rest.

In some ways, I am not too different from many young adults in that I do not have a consistent worshipping community due to the nature of my job. On the rare Sunday “off,” I struggle to make the decision first, if I go to church or not and then, where I will go (I try to go somewhere I have not been to for work so that I can worship rather than work). Sometimes I do “opt out” of worship – I am exhausted from a long work week and traveling, there are things needing to be done at home, and/or I haven’t had much time with my husband due to our conflicting busy schedules. Many times it is as simple as not wanting to sit through another boring service.

bored-in-churchYes, I said that! All too often, church is BORING. The worship hour quickly begins to feel more like a (well-rehearsed) monolog with very little excitement or genuine passion. There is a formula that is stuck to almost more religiously than the actual congregation might be – 4 prayers, 3 hymns, 2 scripture readings, and 1 sermon. The leaders seem to be on a rotation and have become passive and bored with their jobs, and the preacher seems worn down as if presenting a research paper.

Yes, this might be a little blunt, but I fear that this is the reality that so many congregations are finding themselves slowly slip into. I also believe that this is why so few people make church a priority on Sunday morning. The worship hour has become a boxed in, predictable, and boring requirement and has lost its worship aspect.

family-playing-soccer-having-fun-14312301I think about the things which I choose to do on my Sunday “off” and I look to my friends who do not regularly attend worship on Sundays. Almost every person I think of is opting for some sort of “together time” with their family. Relationships are being strengthened and God’s grace is being shared. Those who might be “skipping” church are probably engaging in conversation with others who might not ever attend, and in the process are sharing a glimpse of the love in the checkout line, that is being taught in the sanctuary.

I regularly read articles and hear questions surrounding the mystery of how to bring in more young adults. I want to urge us to look beyond this one, very broad and diverse age group and look at people in general. Why are so many gathering at the Starbucks across the street rather than in our sanctuaries? Why do so many come one time and never return? Why are our own members slowly fading away?

Because worship has become more about being present in a building than worshiping God, and is boring.

Our greeters are more engaged in side conversations and gossip rather than greeting.
Our ushers are only present to collect the offering.
Our liturgists are quiet and bordering monotone, reciting a script they have used 20 times.
Our sermons, while they might be great, are presented as research papers rather than the Good News.

This isn’t happening in every congregation, but I am seeing it way more often than I am comfortable with. This is where we need to look at making changes, not in our programming and refreshments.

Our greeters should warmly and genuinely welcome all who walk through the doors and save the gossip time for later.
Our ushers should be present to make sure all find an appropriate seat, know where the restrooms are and have what they need.
Our liturgists should read the bulletin and scripture readings ahead of time and excitedly lead us in the liturgy and readings.
Our preachers should take pride in what they have worked so hard on all week and share their interpretation of scripture with emotion and a passion which draws the listener in rather than puts them to sleep.

I personally don’t buy it that the shrinking attendance is a young adult problem. I don’t believe that increased or more diverse programming will fix the problem.

Passion, excitement, genuine welcome, and “real” worship will draw people in. A true desire to build and share in relationship, a challenge to go out and be a better example of Christ’s ministry – this is what I believe people seek in the midst of this broken and hurting world. Not scripted, ritualistic, boring church.

It is time that we let go of the formalities and reconnect with the people. It is time that we, as leaders of the congregations, give permission to share real emotion as we share our own. It is time that we return to worship in the church, focusing on our Creator rather than the building.

When do you experience genuine excitement and worship during
your worship service?

What aspects of leadership and worship do you think could use a jump-start?

Rev. Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations

Upcoming Changes at Union!

Dear Friends,

Grace to you and peace!

I  wanted to update you with news from Union Presbyterian Seminary!

Many of you – some 200 churches – have worked with at least one of our two Church Relations Officers, the Reverends Jordan Davis and Nicole Ball, as they have visited with individual congregations and presbyteries. They have heard incredible stories of ministry and brought experiences back to the seminary, sharing them with our faculty, staff, and board as well as through the “Congregational Corner” blog. They have helped Union understand what ministry means today so that we can truly be “For the Church in the World.” They have helped to connect congregations with resources at Union about which they might not otherwise know. There is no doubt that their work has been transformational for many aspects of our shared ministry as churches and our seminary!

In the coming months, the church relations program will enter a new phase of ministry. Early this summer, Rev. Nicole Ball will complete her full time work with the seminary to balance her call to ministry and motherhood on a part-time basis. The Rev. Jordan Davis has accepted a call to serve as the transitional associate pastor for youth and young adults at Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian in Cary, NC. Her work with the seminary will conclude around mid-August as she embarks upon this new call in ministry.

As August approaches, we encourage you to contact Hayley Mathews (hmathews@upsem.edu) or me, Clay Macaulay (cmacaulay@upsem.edu), for any church relations needs you may have. As my schedule permits, I will gladly come supply preach and also teach for your congregation. Likewise, you are encouraged to contact and invite members of the seminary faculty to preach and teach in your church, as well.  Just click the button at the bottom of this email. This will link you to a “speaker’s bureau” brochure entitled “What’s Union’s most valuable resource to share with your church?” The brochure will give you the direct contact information for you to reach our faculty members. Hayley is available to connect you with any needed resources and will be continuing our seasonal devotions in Advent and Lent that so many have come to appreciate.

“Congregational Corner” – that many of you have read and have enjoyed online – will continue, but with less frequency. Jordan has agreed to continue writing for us and she also has some ideas to get you involved in this blog as well!

We are incredibly thankful for the work that both Nicole and Jordan have done over the last two and three years in sharing the story of our seminary with you and many others! Should you have any questions regarding this unfolding chapter in our life together and how we might assist you and your congregation in your ministry, please feel free to contact me in our Alumni Office in Richmond. (804-278-4382).

I know that you join with me in giving thanks to God for the great ministry Jordan and Nicole have shared with us over these past three years, and wish them well in their ministry and vocation both at home and for the Church in the years to come!

With thanks for your continued prayers and support of Union Presbyterian Seminary,

Yours faithfully,
Clay               

The Rev. W. Clay Macaulay (D.Min.’85)
Director for Alumni Development

The Act of “Being”

How often do we miss parts of conversations, meetings, even worship services, because we are still so focused on the last thing we did or already thinking about the next thing? I just returned inside after meeting our new neighbor, but was so focused on drafting this blog that I don’t even remember her name! It didn’t help that my FitBit was buzzing on my wrist during our conversation because I had just received a text message.

We are constantly distracted as we try to handle too many things in too little time. We are connected, we are planning, we are tracking, we are talking. With everything going on, it makes me wonder when was the last time I gave something- or someone- 100% of my focus?!

18556070_10102997714632891_5835979194489756625_n
A few weeks ago, I was so happy to be visiting a local church that I was already planning where my husband and I would meet for brunch. I was also trying to make my mental list of things to mention in my upcoming “Minute for Mission”. I vaguely remember hearing the gathering music come to an end in the beautiful chapel at Trinity Avenue Presbyterian Church (Durham, NC) before Rev. Katie Crowe stood up to welcome the congregation to worship and share a few announcements. As we began to make the transition into worship, her words called out to me and helped me push everything else aside (at least for a few seconds), “…as we transition from arriving to being together in worship.”

These words- so honest and real- have sat with me for weeks now. We are always arriving and leaving, but when are we “being”?

To truly “be”, takes a great deal of focus and effort. It takes becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable, silencing the deafening calls for attention, letting go of what we have left while we set our planning aside. For someone as “Type A” as myself, it can be very stressful to “just be”.

Rev. Crowe’s words sank in though and gave me permission to stop. Her words closed doors and opened my heart. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. For even just that moment, I was able to simply “be” and enjoy the gathering of God’s children in a full and beautiful way. I wish it had lasted longer, but I had to work (and my stomach was already grumbling and wondering how it would be filled later on!)

As I continue to think about this, I continue to try to “be” more. I try to set the phone down and focus on the person talking. I try to close the computer and enjoy time with my husband. I put the pen down and pray through the bulletin before I make my notes all over it.

However, just as I needed permission, I wonder if our congregants might need it as well? Each person is coming in from any number of things, anywhere on the range from exhausted and stressed, to joyful and energized. Each person has come to belong and worship, but first we must BE. I wonder, what would the conversations following worship sound like if we were more intentional at the beginning? How would relationships change, how would our personal and communal praise and worship change?

This week, I invite you to take more time as you transition from arriving to worship to being in worship with your congregation. I invite you, to invite them.

In a world of chaos, what will it be like to simply BE together?

How do you invite your congregation into the worship time and space?
What words of welcome have you find particularly inspiring and helpful as you prepare for worship?

Rev. Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations